When acne meets the pill

Acne and the pill

Acne, those dreaded spots that invade your complexion and attack your self-esteem leaving you defenceless to their aches and scars. For those causalities, GPs and dermatologists often pigeon hole us into using oral contraceptive pills as a weapon for acne prevention. And when we’re desperate, we fall into the trap of taking the prescription and buying pills for temporary relief from acne. Emphasis on temporary* here. In America a survey found 14% of women are on oral contraceptive pills for acne treatment. That is, 7 in 50 US women who have resorted to taking synthetic hormones to repress male hormones (testosterone) in their bodies and prevent acne. Despite these women are able to live acne-free lives thanks to the pill, their bodies are actually mimicking the state of pregnancy without actually being pregnant. Hence where the saying “your skin is glowing” is derived from (the higher hormone levels during pregnancy). And what happens when you stop the pill or post partum and your hormones try to rebalance themselves without the pill?

Guess who’s back, back again?

Acne’s back. Tell a friend.

Acne and the appearance of your skin is a reflection of what is occurring inside your body. When you are off the pill, acne is a very common side effect. This is due to the hormone levels in your body. It is a love-hate relationship. Dr Jennifer Ashton, obstetrician and gynaecologist explains that, “the pill contains the same hormones that your body makes, called estrogen and progestin, just in different amounts, so it can override your body’s signals to release an egg (or ovulate). Consequently, it also lowers your body’s testosterone level, which in turn can reduce acne.” Testosterone is the hormone that increases your body’s oil production. When the body has too much testosterone it over-stimulates the skin’s oil glands, making everything super oily. So by decreasing your testosterone level, you are lowering your oil production. And since oils breed from bacteria and bacteria leads to acne, you are reducing your acne breakouts.

Now on the flipside, as we have stressed, every woman has a different reaction to each pill. Dr. Ashton says, “the tricky part is that sometimes there’s a flare before the suppression occurs, which can temporarily make acne worse before it gets better. Sometimes the initial flare-ups occur because some pills’ progestin can have a pseudo-testosterone effect, which can cause a surge in breakouts.”
Another major con is that, the pill does NOT cure acne. Hormonal contraceptives are just a band-aid, because birth control pills don’t address the underlying cause. Acne is skin deep. It’s all got to do with your hormones. When perfectly balanced, your skin will be radiate. Dematoglist Dr. Jaliman recommends tackling acne with dietary changes, specifically a low-glycemic diet. A low-glycemic diet calls for no refined carbs, gluten and dairy basically everything that will spike up your insulin levels and consequently your androgen (testosterone) level.

So before you hop on that pill for acne, know that acne is skin-deep and dietary changes are far more sustainable than oral contraceptive pills that may have irreversible side effects. There are plenty of fish (acne solutions) in the see, don’t settle for the easy one.

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Why are there so many freaken pills around?

pill brands

Ever wondered why there are so many damn pills on the market? What’s the difference between Brenda and Juliet? Why is she on Diane and while you’re on Zoely?

From experience, I was prescribed Zoely merely because my GP was in abundance of Zoely sample packs (how convenient). After my first appointment I was given 2 packs. For FREE! Naïve as I was at the age of 19, I took them with the same satisfaction anyone would have given freebies. From hindsight this was a stupid move by my GP and myself. I should have asked questions. Why Zoely? Why not Brenda or Juliet or even Yaz? Is Zoely any better? What’s the difference and why does it cost twice as much? (Zoely $75AUD for 3 months)

If I were talking to my 19-year-old self, this is what I would have told her…In terms of combination (estrogen and progestin) oral contraceptive pills there are TWO main types – monophasic (one phase) pills and multiphasic (multiple phase) pills.

Monophasic pills

  • All active pills in the pack have the contain the same levels of estrogen and progestin in each pill
  • So regardless of what order you take them in, each pill is the same as it as the same dose for every active day
  • Examples – Microgynon-30/50, Nordette, Levlen, Monofeme, Norimin(1)-28, Brevinor-1(R)-28, Yasmin, Diane-35, Estelle-35, Juliet-35, Brenda-35, Valette, Microgynon-20, Loette, Yaz and Zoely

Multiphasic pills

  • The active pills contain different levels of hormones dosages through the month
  • There are 3 types of multiphasic pills:
    biphasic (2 different dosages), triphasic (3 different dosages) and quadphasic (4 different dosages)
  • Multiphasic pills must be taken in sequential order otherwise they will not be effective and you may experience breakthrough bleeding and unintended pregancy
  • Examples – Natazia, Aranelle-35, Enpresse-30/40, Ortho Tricyclen-35, TriNessa-35, Triphasil-30/40/50,

Monophasic pills are more popular as they are easier to take. Multiphasic pills only appeared because there were concerns about estrogen levels in monophasic pills. Which leads me to the numbers. Ever wondered why there are numbers attached to each pill name? This number is actually an indication of the amount of estrogen that is present in the pill.

  • LOW dose pills contain: 20 micrograms of estrogen e.g. Alesse-20
  • REGULAR dose pills contain: 30-34 micrograms of estrogen e.g. Brenda-35
  • HIGH dose pills contain 50+ micrograms of estrogen e.g. Microgynon-50

And how do you decide what dose is best for you? Well here are a few things you should know:

  • Increased levels of estrogen = the higher the risk of blood clots
  • Increased levels of estrogen = the higher the risk of breast cancer
  • Increased levels of estrogen = the higher the risk of weight gain
  • Increased levels of estrogen = the decrease in the thyroid hormones leading to hypothyroidism
  • Decreased levels of estrogen = the higher the risk of breakthrough bleeding
  • Decreased levels of estrogen = higher rates of discontinuation
  • Moderate levels of estrogen = reduces side effects and regulates periods

For user reviews on each contraception pill visit:
This website can be a good way to gauge whether you should be questioning the symptoms you are experiencing on a specific pill.

The Pill – What are you swallowing?

WHATISINTHEPILLThe saying you are what you eat should not just apply to food, but also to the medication you consume. Women take oral hormonal contraceptives like Tic Tacs, with no questions, no worries. I mean why wouldn’t you? Doctors give them away like candy.

When it comes to food, you watch the sugar and fat content, likewise you should also be checking the amount of artificial hormones contained in the pill you take daily. Finding out what exactly is in your meds and their effect on your body should be as habitual as checking how many calories are in your muesli bar.

These are the questions you should ask and the answers you need to know:

Q. So what is in the oral contraceptive pill (OCP)?
– The synthetic hormones: estrogen and progestin

Q. What are the two types of OCPs?
– The mini pill and the combined pill

Q. And the difference?
– The mini pill contains only 1 type of synthetic hormone progestin
– The combined pill contained 2 types of synthetic hormones estrogen + progestin
– The combined pill balances out the side effects of only-progestin mini pills

Q. What is progestin and what does it do to your body while on the pill?
– Progestin makes the fluid at the opening of the uterus (womb) thicker preventing sperm from coming in and fertilising the egg like a plug
– Progestin prevents ovulation (release of an egg from ovaries)
– Progestin thins out the lining of the womb making it less receptive to a fertilised egg

Q. What are the side effects of progestin?
– breakthrough bleeding
– nausea
– breast tenderness
– weight gain
– mood swings
– increases risk of blood clots
– vaginal dryness

Q. What is estrogen and what does it do to your body while on the pill?
– Estrogen thickens the lining of the uterus to prevent breakthrough bleeding
– Estrogen triggers the production of a thin, watery muscus that interferes the sperm from fertilising the egg
– Estrogen also prevents ovulation

Q. What are the side effects of estrogen dominance? (too much estrogen)
– low sex drive
– bloating
– increases risk of blood clots
– weight gain
– headaches
– mood swings
– irregular periods
– excessive menstrual bleeding

Pressing for answers to some unanswered questions? Comment below or ask us from our Twitter or Facebook @tbhthepill.